WASHINGTON — The World Bank has indefinitely delayed a decision on a $90 million health care loan to Uganda that was slated to be approved on Friday in response to the country’s enactment of anti-gay legislation.
“We have postponed the project for further review to ensure that the development objectives would not be adversely affected by the enactment of this new law,” a Bank spokesperson told BuzzFeed Thursday.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on Wednesday to express her concern with Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality bill, her spokesman said.
“Yesterday, Leader Pelosi spoke with President Kim to express the concerns of Members of Congress about the legislation enacted in Uganda,” Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, told BuzzFeed in an email. “While we appreciate the difficult decisions President Kim has to make and their impact on the lives of many in the developing world, many Members believe that such a blatant act of discrimination should not go unnoticed.”
Former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank and other Democratic members of Congress expressed concern about the loan to Kim as well.
Kim sent an email to Bank employees on Thursday afternoon condemning discrimination against gay people and lesbians. Though focused on the safety of personnel in countries with anti-gay laws, it included some of the strongest language to date from Bank leadership that homophobia is of concern to the institution, which is charged with economic development.
“These acts of discrimination against a group of people because of their sexual orientation cannot be tolerated,” Kim wrote, noting that 83 countries criminalize homosexuality. “They are against our staff principles that call for treating everyone with fairness, impartiality, and respect.”
Any form of “institutionalized discrimination is bad for people and for societies,” he continued, adding, “And as we know well in this institution, widespread discrimination is also bad for economies.”
This statement is significant because the Bank’s large constituency from countries that oppose LGBT rights has made it complicated for a World Bank president to take a firm stand on this issue, said former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, who also spoke with Kim this week about Uganda grant.
“I have no doubt that [Kim] is personally appalled by [Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law], but he’s got a lot of countries to deal with,” Frank told BuzzFeed. “There’s a lot of sensitivity in the lot of the African countries. Same old, ‘Don’t interfere, you Western nations.’”
Frank said he told Kim it could hurt support for the Bank among the U.S. and other major financing countries if “the Bank goes ahead and gives all this money to Uganda right after signing that terrible law.” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill, which imposes up to a life prison sentence for homosexuality and criminalizes LGBT rights advocacy, on Monday.
The decision to delay the loan sends a powerful statement as many donor nations to Uganda and Nigeria debate how to handle healthcare funding in response to the new anti-gay laws. Uganda’s bill, enacted on Monday, would impose up to a lifetime sentence for homosexuality, and Nigeria’s legislation, enacted in January, has already sparked mob attacks on LGBT people. This is especially challenging to the United States, one of the largest donors to Uganda which appropriated $316 million to combat HIV in Uganda in fiscal year 2013.
By delaying this grant, said Jennifer Kates, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s vice president of global health and HIV policy, the World Bank is “sending the message that when countries are passing laws and policies that are harming people, that is going against the core values of the international community.”
Read World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s message to staff condemning discrimination against LGBT people:
The World Bank Group
Washington, D.C. 20433
JIM YONG KIM
To: All Bank Group Staff
Subject: My position on discrimination and ensuring safety of our staff
In light of recent news of legislation and of violence against gays and lesbians around the world, I want to send a strong message to all of you about discrimination and the safety of our staff.
These acts of discrimination against a group of people because of their sexual orientation cannot be tolerated. They are against our staff principles that call for treating everyone with fairness, impartiality, and respect.
We should also be mindful that these instances of discrimination are not isolated occurrences: 83 countries in the world outlaw homosexuality; more than 100 countries discriminate against women; and even more countries have laws that discriminate against minority groups.
Institutionalized discrimination is bad for people and for societies. And as we know well in this institution, widespread discrimination is also bad for economies.
On staff safety, we have already started to address this issue. Let me reiterate that we are doing — and will continue to do — our utmost to make sure that all staff, regardless of sexual orientation, are safe.
In the coming months, we will have a broad discussion about discrimination with staff, management, and our Board on these issues. Now is the right moment for this conversation.
Kate Nocera contributed to this report.